Public Comment

Art Creams Bad Public Policy

By Carol Denney
Tuesday May 24, 2011 - 09:24:00 PM

When I first heard that Berkeley might try for another anti-sitting law I turned to the poets, singers, activists, and musicians I know and told them about the proposed legislation. The immediate result was disbelief. And poetry. And songs. People started to write and sing about it because that’s what they do. It was like suddenly finding a beautiful river springing to life around me. 

One poem in my email box made me dance around my room because it seemed so perfect for the issue. I found myself raving about it at the next meeting I attended, and found I was raving about the poem to its author, poet Gary Hicks. 

So! It made sense to find a way to share it all with each other and our communities. Harold Adler of the Art House Gallery and Community Cultural Center (2905 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA) loved the idea of having a completely free night of shared art in opposition to the proposed anti-sitting law. The Revolutionary Poets Brigade agreed to co-sponsor the event with the Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down Coalition and the art started to flow like crazy. 

We began with musician and author Philip Rosheger’s breathtaking works for classical guitar. Philip has played both Carnegie Hall and the local BART stations. He lost all his original folios in his housing struggles, but still has a breathtaking grasp of both the fretboard and international politics. He was too shy to speak, but his music says it all. 

We covered every inch of the sidewalk sitting issue; deep, political, funny, breathtaking, angry, short, long, and gloriously incomprehensible. We laughed a lot. Kriss Worthington of District seven and Max Anderson of District three were there to assure us that we had their support if the proposed anti-sitting legislation ever makes its way to the Berkeley City Council. 

But our strategy is to gather poetry so powerful, stories so stunning, music so moving, and singing so seductive that absolutely everybody wants to be on our side.Then we not only succeed in making sure we don’t join the shameless communities who have passed anti-sitting laws, we become a model for a way to cream bad public policy with so much spectacular art that the bad public policy wanders off ashamed and meditates on how it got off track. 

It isn’t that we aren’t willing to go to jail – so many of the artists, poets, and musicians conveyed that to me as we gathered steam for the May 20th, 2011, poetry event that it was clear we had enough of them willing to sit down for justice to clog jails for miles around since most holding cells aren’t designed for a big crowd. 

But how delightful it would be if we could just sing our way right past this terrible proposal, pour enough poetry on it that it is doused entirely. That would be a marvelous model for the next community tempted to outlaw something as natural as sitting down. Art on!